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You have probably seen many examples of transcreation without knowing it, which means the brand did a great job applying the process. However, if you’ve ever noticed weird translations on product advertisements that are unintentionally offensive or hilariously wrong, it’s likely a case of “just translation” or transcreation gone wrong. So, what is transcreation? And why is it essential for successful brand expansion and global marketing?
Today, we’re answering these questions and more! Plus, we’re sharing the transcreation advertising examples from major brands that were executed well – and not so well – during foreign market expansions.
Transcreation is the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining the desired intent, style, tone, and context. It’s heavily used by the marketing industry when a product or service is ready to launch new product marketing in foreign language-speaking countries. We covered the topic extensively in our blog Transcreation vs. Translation if you need a refresher.
Basically, while translation is the conversion of text from one language to another, transcreation takes it many steps further to ensure the massaged intent remains intact after translation. With transcreation, the original words or images may be tweaked or changed entirely to convey the message’s original purpose in a different language or culture. So, transcreation is a highly nuanced translation that focuses on eliciting a specific response and finding the best way to recreate that in another language and culture.
If you still are not entirely sure how translation and transcreation differ, we will use some examples to illustrate how it can work – successfully or disastrously. Let’s begin by reviewing successful examples of transcreation by some of the world’s biggest brands.
Coca-Cola transcreates a lot of its content, and we’re not just talking about its slogans. The brand has transcreated entire websites for each country-specific market so that the text, tone, visuals, and marketing materials are all designed to appeal to a specific audience and culture.
Nike is a great example where a straight translation of key marketing messages, like their famous slogan “Just Do It” doesn’t have the same impact in foreign languages as in English. So, Nike brilliantly applied transcreation to its Chinese commercials by producing a series of marketing campaigns that communicate the intended meaning of “Just Do It” with visuals and words scripted to convey the meaning behind the slogan.
Intel gave us another successful transcreation advertising example with its Brazilian debut. In America, the computer-chip manufacturer’s slogan is “Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow”. However, in Brazil’s native tongue, Portuguese, the straight translation of that slogan implied Intel would not deliver on its promises immediately. So, Intel used transcreation to update the messaging used in Brazil to “Intel: In Love with the Future”.
Another of our favorite transcreation examples done right is Red Bull’s foray into China. Red Bull has built its brand around the idea that the beverage will help you achieve more and do more with its energy-inducing formula – after all, it gives you wings!
However, they made some big changes to their product and its marketing before debuting in China to ensure the messaging was conveyed in Chinese culture. First, they altered the formula to a non-carbonated version, which is preferred in that market.
Next, they changed the can’s colors to red, gold, and black – a color scheme that signifies luck, wealth, and good fortune to Chinese consumers. These significant brand changes helped Red Bull successfully launch in China and illustrate successful transcreation in action.
Here is another good example of using transcreation to successfully market a brand to different cultures. “Black Friday” in America is a well-used phrase to signify a big sale. It’s so ingrained in our culture, and we line up for the door-busting deals advertised every Friday after Thanksgiving. However, black Friday doesn’t have the same connotation in other countries – let’s take Arabic-speaking countries as an example.
The word “black” signals mourning and tragedy in Arabic. It’s the color associated with sadness, and people will wear it to express grief and sorrow. Therefore, advertising a black Friday sale in Arab countries would evoke unfavorable feelings around the event. Therefore, they call these major sale events “White Friday”, instead. Again, changing the name is transcreation in action.
Now that we’ve shown you examples of transcreation that helped brands successfully launch in foreign markets, let’s look at some brands that seriously missed the mark.
In the 60s, Pepsi launched a campaign using their slogan, “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation!” However, when the brand launched the same campaign in China, it translated to this: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” Oops! Clearly, transcreation took the day off for this campaign.
Things went equally as wrong for KFC when they translated their famous “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan for a Mandarin audience – and it’s a great example of why literal translations don’t necessarily work in other cultures and languages. KFC’s famous slogan became “Eat your fingers off” when translated for the Mandarin market. We’re certain this was not the message KFC wanted to impart overseas!
When Mitsubishi Motors launched its Pajero model in Spain, they made a major transcreation blunder. In Spanish, the word “pajero” means tosser or wanker. They chose to change the name to Monteiro for the Spanish audience when they realized the mistake, which was likely a costly mistake for the car maker. It’s another of many transcreation examples that could have ended differently if language experts had a say in overseas marketing efforts.
Dove made big waves in America for its body inclusivity messaging, featuring women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities to communicate that beauty comes in all forms, not just “model-type” women. However, their campaign promoting “real women” body images was a huge failure in China. Why? Because the Chinese couldn’t accept the idea of less than perfect models advertising a beauty product.
Dolce & Gabbana is a huge fashion house that styles celebrities and well-known figures from around the world. In fact, the brand was already well-known in China when it released a series of videos on social media in November 2018 to that audience.
Things did not go well. Dolce & Gabbana missed the lesson on transcreation and insulted a whole nation through a poorly conceived ad campaign. For example, one ad shows a Chinese woman sitting at a table attempting to eat a variety of popular Italian dishes such as pizza and spaghetti.
Although this may seem innocent, the Chinese audience it targeted accused Dolce & Gabbana of racism and playing up to stereotypes about Chinese people. Whatever the brand’s original intention was with the ads, it did not translate in the target country.
Transcreation can be very powerful for companies ready to expand into new global markets. However, it can fail miserably if not executed correctly – which can be disastrous and expensive.
The experts at Dynamic Language have over 30 years of experience in transcreation and other language services. We can help you with expert transcreation services using our highly-qualified linguistic, cultural, and subject matter experts to reach your target audience in more than 200 languages.
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